Are religious people less intelligent? It’s a matter of debate
By Matt Smith / January 27, 2015
The recent terrorist attack in France and Islamic State beheadings make it clear that religious people can do awful things. But are they stupid?
Pundits and even some academic researchers sometimes make that leap, claiming survey data associates religiousness with a lower IQ. But this conclusion never has been the subject of scientific agreement. And critics say it relies on junk science.
An essay last month on Salon, dubbed “Religion’s smart-people problem,” cited research asserting that among the most prestigious scientists in the world, religious belief “is practically nonexistent.”
“Such facts might cause believers discomfort,” the essay concluded.
That piece followed a 2013 survey of studies claiming to show superior intelligence among nonbelievers. “Religious People Branded as Less Intelligent Than Atheists in Provocative New Study” was the take of The Huffington Post.
The reports advance a century-old academic meme that argues pews are filled with relative dullards.
But some say this conclusion is drawn from garbage-in, garbage-out studies, overinterpretation of muddled survey results or a mischaracterization of the narrower finding that, within the United States, some groups of scientists seem to have a higher concentration of atheists than the population at large.
“I don’t know of any surveys that correlate low IQ with belief in God,” said Matt Young, a physics professor at the Colorado School of Mines.
Young has written books including “Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails)” and “No Sense of Obligation: Science and Religion in an Impersonal Universe,” which argues that the universe is not presided over by any god or spiritual force. He is a go-to source for condemning Bible-based attacks on evolution. And he runs a blog debunking claims that creationism is a type of science.
But since at least...